The Trial (1962)
Orson Welles directing Anthony Perkins in a Kafka adaptation. How can this fail‽ Kafka’s novel is fantastic and left quite an impression on me when I first read it. I’m a little apprehensive seeing it come to life on screen. My fears are quickly allayed. Perkins plays the nervous Josef wonderfully. Woken in the early hours in his bedroom by a man in a dark suit, he’s quickly surrounded by bureaucratic menace and accusations. His crimes are “abstract”, a delightful cover all word for Kafka. Counter to Josef’s skittish panic is Inspector A (Arnoldo Foà), he’s calm, cold, with his deep baritone and notebook. The dialogue is fast and functional. Full of luscious detail adding extra weight to the dark surroundings. Be it Josef’s apartment block, his workplace or anywhere to be honest, shadows are a key feature here. I’m watching on a less than perfect transfer though sadly and am quite gutted that these beautifully bleak buildings (shot largely in Croatia) aren’t crisp to the eye as intended. It’s haunting. No more so than the trial courtroom itself. A vast layered hall full to the brim of clone like men, shot in shadows and low angles. Josef is trapped in a mysterious battle with the courts. Fighting a charge he doesn’t understand. He’s compelled to dig, but distracted in his efforts, by those around him, not to mention a precession of women. It’s not as effective as the book, but does have some visually arresting moments. Numbered old folks stood half naked on the beach. The oversized doors of the courtroom. Men sitting alone behind closed doors. For all the waiting and searching, it’s got quite a phrenetic tone. In part set by a particularly jazzy score, but mostly for its constant movement. Josef rarely sits still and the camera only does when it lands on a particularly gorgeous shot... which is almost every one. It’s quite tiring. A building attrition thats wears both the viewer and Josef. This is the point though. The ridiculousness of power. Who has it. How they use it. Whom they use it on and how do you live freely in such as restrictive infrastructure. Level upon level of meaningless games. Josef is a true literary hero, a doomed hero. I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as the novel, although it’s pretty faithful to the text and is a fantastic film.